Paul McMahon: A Journey Through Imagination
March 28, 2017   

On the 30th of March 2014 I fell 3.5 stories from a building onto concrete in Sydney’s inner suburbs. Sydney is a long way for many who read this, but the natural results of the fall are all too familiar. The fall was measured 15 metres down and everyone’s reporting of the incident lay unemotional, statistical and life drained. The accident occurred at a friend’s house following my 28th birthday party, in the early hours of the following morning. I flew through the air hitting an awning after one floor down and then through a tree to the ground below.

This major accident could have been my peril but I survived and am now writing my first book about the survival and the rehabilitation that followed. The recovery story includes a one month long trip around Australia, representing my personal thrill for travel. It also includes a trip to save love in Argentina and Uruguay later in the story, when money was low and pain was high. That trip was during a later difficult recovery period but travel saved me nonetheless. Many are not so lucky.

Breaking my left leg, left arm, pelvis, having possible lung damage and injuries to the left side of my skull injured me. Strangely after a large amount of surgery, I look almost the same with a small scar above my left eye and nerve damage to my mouth. This nerve damage once stopped me from closing my eyes fully but now it simply limits my facial expression and ability to smile. However, the Brain Injury was the overlooked element in many ways and the undetectable element to the naked eye, as people judged you but never knew the challenges to your universe…your brain. Brain injury was most surely the most difficult and seemingly invisible reality, as mental illness is often an issue defined by saying ‘he’ll be fine’ without any real knowledge of how and when.

There was the original fear that I may not walk or indeed be unable to talk. The usual recommendation is that brain injuries take around two years to heal, with a minimum of six months recovery prior to beginning work or at the least attempting to take a neuropsychological test to begin that journey. I can say that this recommendation of two years is undefined and is simply used by government social services to ensure you cost the state as little as possible. For many, this journey takes a lifetime but it is a complicated world where sickness is seen as a burden you must control...or you lay forgotten.

Over the months I healed well physically and I became somewhat obsessed with walking, as I could not run in the beginning. It started by walking on the hospital grounds and then traversing the city. It was all just to keep going.

The story shows that despite the worst accident possible, you can still venture into tranquillity and prosperity. This is a positive story built on luck and determination but life is not about tranquillity and it can be a confusing lost journey as was mine through the years following the fall. Brain injury is not an advisable way to stay centered and relaxed.

My brain injury was by far the worst of my injuries to recover from. Attention to detail and memory were my problems and I realized recently that people do not understand the differences in memory, as I didn’t once upon a time. I remembered every situation, and that was not the issue of interacting with me in any way. They were memories lost, built on ideas such as things I needed to do or occasionally things I had to complete before leaving the house, sometimes leaving tiny things forgotten and incomplete. I became a distinctly disorganized person. It was a loss of memory to the thoughtfulness of life and not actual walking, talking, conducting to be as the normal human I once was.

The emotional aura was also different. My emotions were different and it is hard to explain the issue in its entirety but I was certainly living in another world. I was self-focused but without screaming of that self-focused need. It was an emotional journey with highs and lows but the exact feeling of that journey is the hardest thing to explain.

I completed a neuropsychological test and was fit to return to work only 6 months after the accident. I then took so long looking for work that I began a masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning to continue my love of humanities research, a massive achievement that on every study day I treasure.

Looking for work is a challenge and with that challenge’s completion it is the end of the book’s story, but not my own. It was where the longest and most realistic part came and at this time I have seen how the story finally ends and I will leave you all wondering. Time will tell as I have been fired from many positions with a realistic astonishment in this fact.

Keep going. Life is not about roses and petals and old poetry by the sea. It is about hard work and it pays off eventually, little by little and bit by bit until you are winning; not winning over others but winning for your own interests and love of life. Too many people get lost on ranking themselves against others, follow your passions and you will succeed. In the stellar moments you think of the journey and say,

“Wow, that was intense but I learned beyond belief.”

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. The patient's words above have been preserved, with minor edits. Views expressed are not associated with Neuroscience Education Institute (NEI).